Wednesday, 21 November 2012

The Privilege of the Sword - Ellen Kushner

Few books make me want to start reading them again as soon as I've finished them. This one did. Of course I finish a lot of books which I've enjoyed immensely but I don't feel the need to turn to page one again, once they're over. With this one, I simply wanted to go over it again, to write down everything I wanted to say about it, all the quotes I wanted to single out, all the exclamation marks I wanted to add.
But if you had asked me ten or even twenty pages in, I would have laughed. The writing style is certainly not the first thing I would praise about this book. Maybe I don't read enough popular fiction to be accustomed to this kind of unpolished writing, but at first I was shocked, and also slightly amused, at the bluntly lack of elegance in the prose. The best side of it is that it's not even remotely trying to be a well-written book. It wants to be a hugely fun and entertaining read, and it certainly succeeds at that. The writing style is the only negative comment you're going to read about it here. There rest is all going to be like "asdfasdfghgfdssasdsa OMG ALL THE FEELS YOU HAVE TO READ THIS sdfgdsasdfds omg". So now you're warned, we can keep going.

The reason why I decided to read it in the first place is Memory's glowing review. At that time I was still working in the bookshop and this book was on sale, so I bought it. This is how long it takes me to read books, yes... So anyway, I read it this summer and (here we go) asdfdsdfgsaddsaasdsasdfghjk I loved it so much. Where do I even start?
The characters. So lovable and funny and well rounded, I really didn't want to leave them. Especially Katherine. What a character development she's had. I never thought I would love her so much at first. But she slowly turns into one of my favourite literary heroes ever. She's just like who I wanted to be when I was little, when I pretended I was Wonder Woman, saving the unfortunate and defeating the villains. She's definitely earned a place in the my Olympus of female heroes. She cracked me up with her delightful mix of defiant attitude, romantic ideals and natural disposition to despise (and fight) every injustice. I can't tell you enough how much I loved her.

Then there's Marcus and his friendship with Katherine. I never really saw them as a proper couple. For me they're always going to be BFF, constantly up to mischief and adventures. I wish there was an extended version of this book with extra bits dedicated to their wondering in the city and getting into all sorts of trouble.

The Duke, I still haven't mentioned the Duke. He's not a villain per se, but he's not really the nicest guy around either. You learn to love him for all his faults and his attitude, and without him the book wouldn't be what it is. He's called the Mad Duke for a reason, and I believe there's a lot I don't know about him, in a previous book in the same series. But I think I can sum it up nicely with one single quote:
"I do not make the rules" he said creamily. "This annoys me, and so I comfort myself by breaking them."
He's the quintessential decadent nobleman, who loves to hold orgies and lavish parties, but who has a secret wounded heart which he conceals behind a facade of sarcasm and wit.

The Black Rose. Another character I would read a whole book about, happily. A mysterious, beautiful actress who plays the main part in the theatre adaptation of Katherine and her friend Artemisia's favourite book. They both unashamedly fangirl about her and her acting, and I found myself grinning when I recognised the signs:
I had to dig my nails into my palms to keep me from squeaking out loud. As it was, I began moving my lips along with the lines. I knew them all, from the opening chapter of my favourite book.
and also
The Black Rose swept back onstage, glowing with tragic dignity. Her magnificent bosom swelled as she took a deep breath and bowed low to the crowd. The girl behind me started gasping, "I'll die, I'll die... Oh just hold me! Isn't she fine? I've written her a dozen letters, but she never answers."
[Those who follow me on Tumblr would know who I think the Black Rose looks like in my head...]

The Black Rose and the effects she has on Katherine - a proper, sudden, sexual awakening - made me have high expectations for Katherine. There is a lot of teasing on that front, but, alas, it wasn't developed as much as I would have wanted. Although her jealousy for the Black Rose towards the Duke made me smile more than once. Why do you tease us so, Ms Kushner?

More things I loved about this book: The relationship between Katherine and Artemisia. How they both reenact their favourite book, choosing to be its characters in the secret letters they write to each other (Katherine being the male hero and Artemisia his lover), and how real and full of meaning all of it is for them. They're not playing, they're both very serious in their intentions, but they're still teenagers and the way they write, their embellished and overly dramatic language is endearing to the point that I wanted to screech and squish both of them.

And then there's the important theme of violence against women. I haven't mentioned it's set in a romanticised past, similar maybe to 18th century Europe, with swordsmen, aristocracy and a serious lack of women's rights. It's in this context that the violence and the subsequent victim-blaming takes place. Unfortunately it's all very relevant today, but I loved how it was dealt. How Katherine is unequivocally the champion of wronged women and won't accept any other truth. How, even in her naivety of how her world works, she knows instinctively which sides she's on.

Is this enough to make you want to read it? I haven't said much about what the story is about, partly because I'm lazy and just wanted to gush about how much I loved this book, and partly because I didn't want to spoil it too much. Also, if you really want to know, there's Amazon and its clones to do that job.


Memory said...

This. All of this. (Except I love Kushner's writing as much as her storytelling.)

valentina said...


Jill said...

I've read other books by Kushner and enjoyed them, but not this one. I'll have to give it a try. Sounds like fun!

valentina said...

Yes do try. It's sooo much fun.